Alaska News Nightly: April 21, 2011

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New Information Released on Stevens Crash
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage
New information released Wednesday by the National Transportation Safety Board indicates that pilot Terry Smith was in control of a plane that crashed last year, killing him, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, and others.

The NTSB data indicates that the airplane, a DeHaviland Otter, was not “cruising at impact, but was climbing and maneuvering”.

The NTSB had investigated whether Smith’s health played a part in the crash.

Smith had been grounded by the Federal l Aviation Authority in 2006, because of a stroke that he had suffered. Smith was piloting the DeHaviland that crashed near Dillingham on August 9, 2010. He was 62-years-old at the time.

NTSB investigators did not reach conclusions about what caused the crash in the hundreds of pages of data. A five-member NTSB board is expected to decide officially next month if Smith’s health may have been a factor in the crash.

According to the NTSB records, Smith had a family history of strokes. It is the job of the board to pinpoint the cause of plane crashes as to mechanical failure or human error. Smith had been given clearance to return to piloting by the FAA. The NTSB investigation also looked into how Smith was given medical clearance to fly.

Group Will Sue Fish and Wildlife Over Pacific Walrus Status
Associated Press
An environmental group has given formal notice that it will sue the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list Pacific walrus as a threatened or endangered species.

A spokeswoman for the Center for Biological Diversity says the group will sue to move walrus off the agency’s “warranted but precluded” list.

The agency announced in February that walrus need additional protection from the threat of climate warming but could not be added to the threatened or endangered list because other species were a higher priority.

Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage says the agency has not demonstrated that a walrus listing is precluded by other listing proposals or that progress is
being made in adding qualified species to the list.

New Numbers Rank Alaska High in STD Rates
Daysha Eaton, KDLG – Dillingham
New numbers being released from the Alaska Department of Health, put Alaska at number one in the nation for Chlamydia and number two for Gonorrhea, and the reports say Alaska Native Women are being disproportionately affected.

Non-Profit Improving Accuracy, Speed of Breast Cancer Screenings
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A non-profit organization that offers breast cancer screenings around the state is improving the accuracy and speed of services with new technology.

Odette Butler, executive director of the Fairbanks based Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska says a new mobile clinic will provide digital screenings.

Butler says digital screening is superior to the analog technology the BCDC has used in the past.

Butler says that her organization will now be able to provide digital screenings to most of the 56 Alaskan communities it serves, but that the mobile unit is too big to fly into seven fly-in only communities. She says the center’s next acquisition will be a smaller portable digital screening
machine, but that agency first has to pay off the half million dollar mobile unit. It’s expected to be delivered in June.

Proposed Local Energy Projects Could Lower Southeast Energy Costs
Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska – Juneau
Electrical costs could go down in about 20 Southeast Alaska communities if lawmakers leave local energy projects in the capital budget. They’re part of a controversial package that kept the Legislature from completing its business on April 17. And they continue to be in play as the special session searches for an ending.

Ice Alaska Looking to Buy Property from Railroad
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Ice Alaska wants to buy the land it’s operated on for the last 15 years. The non-profit ice sculpture organization sits on Alaska railroad property, and the two parties have battled over lease terms for many years. Efforts to get the railroad to give the land to the North Star Borough or swap it for similarly valued property have failed, and Ice Alaska faces a June deadline to move out. Ice Alaska Chairman Dick Brickley says the organization is offering the railroad $4 million for the 30 acre site.

Brickley says the offer is based on past railroad and borough assessments. He says Ice Alaska’s financing plan uses $1.8 million the organization received from the legislature for a new building, plus a $2.2 million loan. Brickly says he’ll personally guarantee the loan if he has to. He says the Alaska Railroad’s real estate board plans to review the proposal.

Ice Alaska and the railroad have been at odds over the site for years.

Weather Conditions Should Make for Easy Breakup
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
Recent weather conditions are conducive to an easy break up. National Weather Service hydrologist Ed Plumb in Fairbanks says moderate temperatures are easing the interior into spring.

Plumb says if the current trend continues, it will result in a mush out of river ice, and no flooding, but he cautions that a change in the weather could quickly throw things the other way.

That’s what happened in 2009, when interior temperature abruptly climbed into the 70 degrees range at the start of May, triggering a major meltdown that lifted and jammed river ice causing major flooding along the Yukon River at Eagle.

New Ferry System Should be Able to Begin Next April
Deanna Garrison, KRBD – Ketchikan
A new Southern Southeast ferry system says it’s shored up the bulk of the funding necessary to begin passenger and vehicle service next April. The North End Ferry Authority plans to pick up where the Inter-Island Ferry Authority left off, resuming service between Coffman Cove, Wrangell and Petersburg. The ferry authority plans to expand the defunct IFA route to also include Ketchikan.

Biking Family Has Big Plans for Future
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks
A family that road a five-person bicycle into Fairbanks last fall has more than survived the winter. The Kentucky clan has big plans for the future.

ASD Fires Four Employees Suspected of Stealing Money
Associated Press
The Anchorage School District has fired four employees suspected of stealing lunch money, student activity fees or other cash used by students to pay for expenses.

Superintendent Carol Comeau says the district was tipped off by other employees about possible thefts or complaints that fees had been paid but not credited.

She says that led to an investigation and the district is working with Anchorage police to review other possible patterns of larceny.

The four employees were working individually.

Police say one of the four, a former Chugiak High School administrative assistant, has been charged with felony theft and falsifying business records.

The district has fired another Chugiak High employee plus one each at West High and O’Malley Elementary School.